April 17, 2007


Are we accountable for what we do?
Does it matter what we do?

Friar Jack’s Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack’s musings

Catechism Quiz —
Does It Matter What We Do?

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

My January article, “God’s Gift of Life and the Tragedy of Suicide,” received close to 70 e-mail responses. Writers shared experiences of losing loved ones to suicide and the pain they suffered during that most difficult time. I was grateful to hear that almost all people received support from friends, relatives and the Church. I am happy my words affirmed and reaffirmed people’s belief in a loving, compassionate and merciful God, who understands the circumstances and conditions of suicide victims.

Some respondents asked whether such a compassionate God could also be a just God. Those were sincere questions. We hear so much in our theology, preaching and Scripture about the mercy of God that some wonder at what point God says, “All right, I’ve had it. I’m tired of all this. Shape up or ship out.” And others often wonder, “If God is so merciful, does it really matter what we do?” One writer expressed, “Why do I even have to try to be good if everything is forgiven in the end anyway?”

Are we accountable for what we do?

First of all, God treats us as the adults that we are. We were made in God’s own image and likeness with intellect and free will. Now we know from observation and our own experience that there are no perfect people. Our human nature is wounded and at times weak and inconsistent. In short, we know we sin. Nevertheless, for people who have developed fairly normally through life, we know right from wrong rather early on in our lives, in spite of our woundedness. What this means is that as we grow and mature, we are more accountable for our actions, good and bad. It’s that simple.

Jesus speaks of that fact in many ways but especially at the Last Judgment scene in Matthew’s Gospel: “What you did to these the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (see Mt 25:31-46). And our destiny will depend not just on Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have a responsibility to live our lives in a way that makes evident that we are disciples of and believers in Jesus Christ—even if we fail from time to time.

Next, we cannot play games with God. We cannot fool him, only ourselves. God alone knows the deepest part of our hearts. In the end, we will render an account. We have been so blessed with the gift of faith: being in the Church that Jesus established on this earth, having its teachings and guidance in doctrine and morality and knowing how to nurture a close relationship with God. With all those blessings, we are in a special way accountable for our responses to those gifts.

Does it matter what we do?

For someone to say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, because God will forgive me,” is like a married person telling his or her spouse the same thing. That would be absurd. Vows mean fidelity, love, support and care for one’s family. We know that husbands and wives, priests and nuns are not perfect. But we, who have the gift of faith, believe in a good and loving God and are called to fidelity to that faith and to our God.

Also, we must understand that within the idea of accountability there are degrees of guilt. Society, as well as our faith, operates the same way. Society will lessen the guilt depending on circumstances surrounding the act (e.g., age, intelligence, understanding, fear, etc.).

This is what I was referring to when I wrote about suicide. Suicide is never a morally acceptable act. But the point is that individuals suffering terrible depression or pain can’t fully understand what they do or be completely free in their actions. God does know those special circumstances. Further, Jesus describes his heavenly Father as loving and merciful toward them as well as ourselves. Jesus’ whole life was spent with sinners and outcasts and people who were told that God did not love them. Jesus told them the opposite—that God does indeed love them.

When we see God face-to-face the moment after our death, the first words out of our mouths will be, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” Knowing what we know, how could we ever say, “O Lord, I never thought what I did really mattered to you.” Indeed, it does matter. If we just gaze upon Jesus hanging on the cross for us, there is no way we could say, “It doesn’t matter.”

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “A Poem for Holy Week and Easter: ‘I See His Blood Upon the Rose.’”

Dear Friends: Heartfelt thanks to all of you who sent e-mail responses to my column on Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem, “I See His Blood Upon the Rose.” I received over 15 wonderful responses, many of which had a lot to teach about Joseph Plunkett and his very moving story. Here is a selection of abbreviated responses from your e-mails:

  • “Thank you for an inspirational moment that has captivated my heart, brought tears to my eyes and will be a treasured keepsake forever.” Linda
  • “I’m sure it was a typo, but Joseph Mary Plunkett’s wife was Grace Gifford, not Clifford.” Anne. (Response from Friar Jack: Thanks, Anne, for pointing out this error on my part. You motivated me to do a search on Grace Gifford on Google, and I appreciated the touching details I found there. May others do the same!)
  •  “I first encountered J.M. Plunkett’s poem as the lyrics for a very moving Lenten carol titled,  ‘I See His Blood,’ with music written by Michael Joncas (who also wrote ‘On Eagle’s Wings’). I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful songs I’ve been blessed to be able to sing as cantor on Good Friday. I strongly advise anyone who has not heard the song to look it up! The haunting melody enhances the lovely words.” Renee
  • “Are you aware of the song ‘Grace,’ on the Irish Tenors’ first CD? It is from 1998, and the song is sung by Anthony Kearns. It is the whole story of Joseph Plunkett and Grace, whom he married on the day of his execution. It contains the line, ‘You can see his blood upon the rose.’” Sue

Thanks to all for your kindness and most helpful information!
Friar Jack

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org.

Friar Jack's E-spirations
Catholic Greetings Premiere
Saint of the Day
Catholic Sampler
Your E-mail Address:

A Message From Friar Jack
Welcome! I hope you’ll enjoy all of the news about what’s happening at AmericanCatholic.org, as well as my “musings.” By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my coworker, Friar Jim. You can find out more about us here.

Free Samples—Online!

Sample book chapters, audio clips and video clips before purchasing items from St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Click here for more information.

Catholic Greetings

Share your thoughts and prayers with friends and family this Easter season with
Click here for a beautiful assortment

Saints to Lean On
Spiritual Companions for Illness and Disability
Book by Janice McGrane, S.S.J.

Eleven inspiring and faith-filled companions offer comfort in time of need.
Read a free sample chapter online.

Faith Formation Update

A free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders. The focus is parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms.
Click here to find the latest issue.

Riding the Dragon
10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times
Unabridged audiobook by Robert J. Wicks
Read by the author

Wicks draws on Eastern and Western traditions to offer help for a wide range of difficulties and life situations.
Listen to a free sample online.

Praying Our Goodbyes
Audiobook by Joyce Rupp
Read by Sherry Kennedy Brownrigg

What Jesus Said and Why It Matters NowBest-selling author Joyce Rupp offers healing and a path for listeners to recover hope.
Learn more here.

Jesus in the House
Gospel Reflections on Christ’s Presence in the Home
Book by Allan F. Wright

While Jesus preached publicly in the streets and on the hillsides of Palestine, he frequently ministered in the home. Biblical scholar Allan Wright explores this domestic dimension of Jesus’ ministry in a lively and readable new book. Learn more here.

Love in the Little Things
Tales of Family Life
Book by Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina spins heartwarming and humorous stories of love and family life. A Servant Book.
Learn more here

Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace
My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei
Audiobook by Scott Hahn
Read by Paul Smith

The best-selling author of A Father Who Keeps His Promises recounts the significant role Opus Dei played in his conversion from evangelical Christianity to Catholicism and explains why its teachings remain at the center of his life. Learn more here.


If you want to know more, try our St. Anthony search engines.

St. Anthony, Help Me Find...

Check out the entire St. Anthony Messenger Press
family of e-newsletters:


CatholicSAMPler.com -- Free samples, news and special offers from St. Anthony Messenger Press Friar Jack's E-spirations Faith Formation Update: Ideas and Resources for Catechetical Leaders Saint of the Day Web Catholic: Links and News for Catholic Webmasters Catholic Greetings Premiere